In 1997, a movie hit theaters like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Starship Troopers, directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Edward Neumeier, was loosely based on the critically acclaimed science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein. Set in a distant future where humanity is under a government ruled by the armed forces, the movie (and novel) is about a conflict between Earth and an insect-like species known as the Arachnids. The story focused on Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), a high school student who enlists in the military at the start of the struggle and becomes a hero during the battles that follow. On its release, the movie did poorly and was panned by critics, but it was nominated for the 1998 Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
When the movie came out, it was originally dismissed as a gory action movie set in the future with a streak of cruelty. Over time, Starship Troopers has become more appreciated as a satire. Commercials and news broadcasts set up the underlying theme of patriotism and totalitarianism. Themes of the demoralization of the enemy, the use of force, and the abuse of military power play out alongside brutal and gripping fight sequences. With news of a reboot of Starship Troopers in the works, CBR thought it was time to look behind the guns. We'll talk about the contrast between the original novel and the movie version, problems that came up during production, and how it was released. On the bounce, trooper!
20 BUG HUNT AT OUTPOST NINE
The movie started with screenwriter Edward Neumeier, who had read the novel as a child and loved it. When it came time to write a script, he wrote an action movie about Earth soldiers fighting an alien insect race, and it was called... no, not Starship Troopers... Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine.
At the time, no one was sure they could get the rights to Starship Troopers, so the movie was just about the battles between humans and alien insects. In fact, by the time anyone got around to getting the rights for Starship Troopers, the movie had already started filming. Some names and locations were changed, but Bug Hunt became Starship Troopers pretty easily.
19 VERHOEVEN HATED THE NOVEL
When the decision was made to adapt the novel Starship Troopers, director Paul Verhoeven decided to try reading the original book. Sadly, he didn't get far. Verhoeven said he could only read a couple of chapters before he gave up. He found the book too supportive of armed conflict, set in a utopian future where the military branch of the government took over the world.
Verhoeven asked his writing partner Ed Neumeier to summarize it for him, and decided to use the basic premise as a way to attack and tear down the idea of totalitarian rule. In other words, he decided to use his movie to undermine the message of the book.
18 THE BEAUTIFUL ACTORS
When it came time to cast Starship Troopers, director Paul Verhoeven went in a completely different direction than most war movies. He wanted the soldiers to look like they came right out of a German propaganda film during the 1940s. Instead of hiring rough and realistic actors who looked like they could kick tail and take names, he hired people with square jaws and great complexions.
Casper Van Dien had been a soap opera star before he was cast as Johnny Rico, and Denise Richards was known more for her modeling career. Later, Verhoeven admitted that it might have been better to cast for acting ability instead of good looks.
17 THE INVADERS
In the movie, it's clear that Earth considers itself the victims in the battle against the Arachnids. The destruction of Buenos Aires was considered an unprovoked attack on Earth and the Bugs the aggressors. That's not actually true.
In the backstory of Starship Troopers, it was Earth that first sent colonists into Arachnid space. At first, the Arachnid region of space was quarantined to keep any humans from settling on it. However, unofficial colonies were formed on Arachnid planets, which ended up angering the bugs to the point where they began to attack Earth. In other words, humans were the invaders, so they started the conflict.
16 THE MISSING LEGS
There were a lot of amazing special effects in Starship Troopers but there's a moment that most fans probably dismiss as a special effect that was real. When Rico goes to the recruiting center, he meets a sergeant who's missing his legs. That was taken from the original novel, but it was no special effect.
Rather than hire an actor with legs and edit them out digitally, the movie hired an actor who was actually missing his legs instead. The sergeant was played by Robert David Hall. In 1978, Hall had lost both of his legs in an accident where a semi truck crushed his car.
15 THE OAKLAND HILLS FIRE
One of the most powerful scenes in the movie was the destruction of Buenos Aires. After years of Earth colonies invading planets populated by the bugs, the Arachnids decided to strike back. They launched a meteor towards Earth, and it landed on Buenos Aires, killing millions and wounding millions more. The attack on the city was the driving force behind Earth invading the home planet of Klendathu.
The footage of the aftermath on Buenos Aires was actually taken from a real tragedy. Six years before Starship Troopers was released, a devastating wildfire struck Oakland, California. The fire killed 25 people and destroyed hundreds of homes. The only good thing about it was that it made perfect footage for Starship Troopers.
14 THE DIRECTOR WAS THE BUGS
It's always difficult for actors to perform on the set when there's nothing there to act against. That was the case in Starship Troopers, where the alien bugs were mostly computer-generated. While shooting, the actors had to get mad and fight huge beasts that didn't exist so the creatures could be added later on.
That's why director Paul Verhoeven tried to make it easier. When the time came to shoot the scenes with the bugs, Verhoeven would personally serve as the stand-in for the Arachnids. He would wave a broomstick to simulate the towering Arachnids while cursing and shouting to get them to react.
In Starship Troopers, soldiers faced armies of mindless chomping bugs, flame-shooting bugs, and even worse creatures. In reality, it was the heat that took down most of the soldiers.
The combat scenes on the alien planet Klendathu were filmed in the Hell's Half Acre gorge of Wyoming. Along with the weird spires and desolate rock formations, the area also included 115-degree heat. With the heavy armor, 25 people a day were being treated for heatstroke. When actor Jake Busey collapsed, production had to be shut down for a week. Since the loss of production cost the studio 1.5 million dollars a day, the studio might have been feeling the heat, too.
12 THE BUGS ARE LEFTOVERS
One of the things even the haters of Starship Troopers can agree on is that the alien bugs look fantastic. Using cutting-edge special effects for the time, the Arachnids were brought to life by a combination of physical models and computer-generated effects. There are a variety of insect aliens from spider-like soldiers to huge plasma-spitting tanks, and they were developed by Phil Tippett who created the dinosaurs for Jurassic Park.
The design of the Arachnids actually came from another movie, Tremors 2: Aftershocks. Stampede Entertainment designed the heat-seeking "shriekers" for Tremors 2, and the design of the Arachnids came from their unused shrieker designs.
11 RASCZAK'S ARM
Rasczak was the high school teacher who went back to the military to lead the Roughnecks. It was never explained in the movie why Rasczak was missing an arm, but there was a heroic backstory for it.
As a private, he was part of a mission to recover a lost probe. When he and his team were attacked by a swarm of bugs, they retreated to a shuttle to escape. As he was getting inside, a bug grabbed his arm and wouldn't let go. The shuttle door couldn't be closed because of his body so Rasczak shut the door on his arm, cutting it off and allowing the shuttle to escape.
10 THE RATING
Starship Troopers doesn't shy away from showing the brutality of fighting, and many considered the battle sequences to be over the top. It earned an R rating, and actually would have gotten an NC-17 rating if it hadn't been for a few cuts.
In one scene, an alien Arachnid called a "brain bug" used a long tube to pick someone's brain in the worst way. The scene was pretty hard to watch, but the original took even longer, and a few seconds were trimmed. There was also a scene where a soldier was torn apart by the bugs, and that was cut too.
9 POWER ARMOR
The original novel was one of the first sci-fi novels to introduce the idea of power armor -- a suit worn by soldiers that can make them much more powerful. The suit covered them in the armor equivalent to a tank, increased the wearer's strength and speed, let them jump over buildings, and gave them access to night vision and tactical maps.
It was something that fans of Starship Troopers loved, which is why they were so disappointed with the movie. In the Starship Troopers film, the soldiers just wore body armor and helmets with no enhancements. The power armor would have increased the already high budget.
8 TOO OLD
In Starship Troopers, the main characters were first introduced as students in high school who witnessed the devastating attack on Buenos Aires that drove them to enlist. That would put them in their late teens if they were supposed to be straight out of high school.
That fits with the real world where 18-year-olds sign up for military service, but the actual movie was compared to Beverly Hills 90210 because the main cast members were all in their early twenties. Director Paul Verhoeven actually wanted to be faithful to the original by casting actors of the right age, but the producers thought they would look too young.
7 THE LOVE TRIANGLE
In Starship Troopers, there's a love triangle between Johnny Rico, Carmen Ibanez, and Zander Barcalow. In the original cut, Carmen was more torn between whether she loved Johnny or Zander. While this might seem like a standard romance, it was changed because of test audiences.
Apparently, the test audiences didn't believe a woman could love two men at once, so the scenes that would have shown that were cut. A kiss in the end between Carmen and Rico was cut specifically because the audience thought it was "immoral" after Zander's death. The audience was even so mad about Carmen choosing her career over Rico that they wanted her to die in the end.
6 CRITICS WERE CONFUSED
When Starship Troopers was released in 1997, it faced an immediate backlash. While some of the criticism came from the violence, there was also confusion. It had been marketed as a straight action movie, but some critics found the jokes and gags out of place.
While some of them caught on to the idea that Verhoeven was making fun of action movies and the armed forces, others thought he was serious and the movie promoted totalitarianism and jingoism. It was only years later that audiences have finally understood that's the exact opposite of what the director Verhoeven was trying to say.
5 IT WAS A BOMB
While some people were critical of the movie's politics or its violence, no one ever said Starship Troopers looked cheap. It was a huge movie with a large cast. The battle sequences were so intense that it used more ammunition than any other movie in US history. The special effects used cutting-edge computer graphics combined with full-sized models of the Arachnids.
All that added up to a budget of over $100 million. Unfortunately, the movie only made $121 million worldwide, which barely covered the cost of production and marketing. The studio was disappointed by the release and Verhoeven's career was never the same.
4 KIDS LOVED IT
When the movie was released, it didn't do as well as expected, and it seems like it appealed to the wrong audience. With its wild action and scary monsters, it turns out that kids were dying to see it.
Theaters spotted kids buying tickets to movies like Mr. Bean and going to Starship Troopers instead. The New York Times gave 1000 boys tickets to Mr. Bean to see how many of the children snuck out to see Starship Troopers instead. It turned out, it was quite a lot. Some people at the studio think the movie would have made twice as much if it had been PG-13.
3 WHY HE MADE IT
Starship Troopers wasn't too popular when it was released, but it's become more understood over time. However, for the director Paul Verhoeven, it was a very personal movie and one he's said is his favorite of all his films.
Verhoeven grew up in the Netherlands under German occupation, something that made him wary of an authoritative ruling party. When he started reading Starship Troopers, he was upset by the bureaucratic government and decided to make his film version a parody of the very message it tried to send. While his satire of propaganda and nationalism wasn't understood when it was released, it's only become more timely.
2 TWO CHARACTERS BECAME ONE
One of the most important characters in the movie was Jean Rasczak, a tough ex-soldier who was the high school teacher of John Rico, Carl Jenkins, Carmen Ibanez, and Dizzy Flores before they enlisted in the army. After the Arachnids attacked Earth, Rasczak re-enlisted to become the commander of the Roughnecks.
Rasczak was actually a combination of two characters from the novel. Lieutenant Colonel Jean V. Dubois was Rico's teacher in high school who provided some of the novel's political rhetoric. Rico's commander was Lieutenant Rasczak, a tough and heroic soldier. The movie brought the two together to simplify the story.
1 LET THE GAMES BEGIN
Of course the movie was adapted into games, as well. In 1997, a board game based on the movie was released; it was called Starship Troopers: Prepare for Battle! The game allowed players to act out skirmishes between Earth and the bugs. That same year, Sega also released a Starship Troopers pinball game.
In 2000, a real-time tactics video game was released called Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy. Unlike the movie, Terran Ascendancy allowed players to use the powered armor from Heinlein's novel. In 2005, Starship Troopers became a first-person shooter game set five years after the movie, and included Casper Van Dien reprising his role as Johnny Rico.